There's a line in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead that says something to the effect of "audiences know what to expect. And that's all they're prepared to believe." That pretty much sums up why I loved this movie.
We know what to expect. We know that when the basketball star misses the final shot at the beginning of the film that he is about to embark on a journey of self discovery which will inevitably end with him making the shot in the end, and winning the big game. No surprises there.
Some screenwriters put in terms of an ending being inevitable, yet surprising. No matter how undeserving or inappropriate their desires we must have each character get what they want in the end. Because we Americans? We love the underdog to win. We NEED the underdog to win.
The Han river is invested with a giant formaldehyde-created sea creature, and when a dad sees his daughter eaten by the creature the family falls into bickering and blaming in their despair. But when the dad gets a crackly phone call from his daughter the next night, the family pulls together to plunder through the quarantined city to find the little girl.
What's so baffling and amazing about this movie is the way Joon-ho Bong manages to find that perfect balance of inevitable and surprising. Pretty much nothing happens the way I expected and yet, it was a very fulfilling experience. I was so aghast by the artful nature of the ending that I realized I was willing to give up some pieces of a cohesive story and enjoy the ambiguity of the situation.
Technically this is a monster movie, but the monster is a side note (and somewhat laughable) to the exploration of one families dynamic. It's a scary movie, but it's not scary. And for me to say that it must mean something. There are cringe-worthy moments, and moments so intense that I practically smothered myself with a pillow in anticipation. But overall the film is so beautiful it's difficult to remember anything else. Be sure to watch it in Korean with English subtitles because the performances of the Korean cast are essential to the experience.